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The war fought not with guns
She'd been here for over a year now. It had to be approaching two. Victoria tried to muster some thoughts for it, but finally gave up. The combination of the midday heat, and the pounding of the helicopter blade, and the roaring of the wind through the open door was enough to scatter any real attempt at solid thought like that. She could check her diary when she got back. Victoria kept everything that happened in her life punctually ordered in a book, events bullet pointed under dates, sometimes even times. Occasionally she'd sit back and just laugh at herself. A true military stereotype. Perhaps she'd be more suited to screaming at recruits in a boot camp, and chewing nervous young soldiers out for being late by a minute.

Idle fantasy, of course. Rather boring idle fantasy. As much as Victoria would wonder on what else she could be doing now, if things had gone differently, she enjoyed leading the Third. It was funny. When you went through the gates of hell with a group of people, they amusingly enough started to grow on you. She'd been offered the occasional position elsewhere since the Imam War, but Victoria was reluctant to leave her regiment, even the Panzer Division. They trusted her too; and could you truly leave people who relied on you, trusted you, to the unknown? Her duty to the Third was as strong as its duty to her.

A sharp voice snapped her out of her reverie, causing her to look up. One of her men was leaning over, shouting out over the din that they'd be arriving in ten. It took her a moment, before Victoria closed her eyes, clearing the fog in her mind out, and gave him a sharp nod. Lieutenant Durand, right. New guy, fresh from officer academy. All so excited to serve with the hardened Third. Serving as a kind of aide-de-camp until Victoria gave the go ahead. He wasn't half bad. Arrogant, but he was young, competent enough, and handsome. Arrogance was assured. She could've laughed at herself again. Victoria was what, five years older than him, and acting like it was twenty. She was never entirely sure whether her confidence was arrogance like she criticised, or well grounded in her abilities.

Well, that was what she tested on campaign.

As the helicopter stepped down, Victoria was stepping out before it had truly touched down, holding herself steady in the swaying dust and wind, an arm over her mouth. The grey beret on her head with the 3rd's insignia, the orange epaulettes, and blue marking on her camos marked Victoria out. A shout rang out, and the soldiers gathered around snapped to attention as their colonel surveyed them. Her gloved hand moved up to put a pair of sunglasses on, and with a small press, the land warrior sprung to life, her vision highlighting the people in front of her, fading as the dust cleared.

"At ease."

The still ranks, arms raised, fell back into their bustling mass. It wasn't like the whole regiment was here; that wasn't needed. Three trucks had come to the small Syrian town, escorted by a pair of jeeps, both with heavy rail-guns mounted on the back. The pair of men on them were relaxed enough to not seem as a threat to the locals, but Victoria knew their eyes saw everything. If anything came up, they'd be firing instantly. They didn't have any of the power suits out here. For one, it was far too hot for it, and there was a fine line between impressing and starting to intimidate. Three truckloads of prime Custody infantry was enough to impress upon people that Victoria wasn't playing here.

Durand appeared at her elbow again, clearing his throat to get her attention. Victoria just nodded, which got him talking as the pair of them paced into the village, the Colonel flanked by a squad of her men. She herself was unarmed: mostly. She had her sidearm, of course, holstered on her hip. But it wasn't for shooting that she'd need it. Hopefully not today.

"The Town Elder is... stubborn. A bit angry, too, by the looks of things. Doesn't appreciate us coming here, I think. He wasn't open to Captain Henderson, but, well, you've got the magic touch, ma'am."
The smile om his face immediately died when Victoria didn't react to the jest, mouth remaining set in its grim line, eyes hidden by the sunglasses. Clearing his throat, Durand continued. Victoria would undoubtedly drill the humour out of him in her presence. It wasn't exactly intentional, and it wasn't like Victoria stopped it at all. It was just... humour tended to die around her, a bit. "I think, from what the searches have come up with, talking with the locals, that the town is supplying the cell we've been looking for. And that he'll know where their base is."

Victoria cut him off sternly. "I don't need speculation, Lieutenant, I need facts. This is less than useful, as it means I will be going in their with expectations. I only want speculations that can be backed with real; evidence, not hearsay, am I understood? Lives rest on this."

Durand visibly wilted, and stammered out an apology, promising it wouldn't happen again. Victoria was already striding forward however, to the central building. That would be it then. Durand was useful, but his inexperience had made itself known again. That was irritating. Taking a deep breath, she stopped, calming herself down. It wouldn't work if she went in their irritated.

Letting out the deep breath, her hand rested on her sidearm, and the power flowed through her.

Victoria successfully kept any reaction down. Really, she wanted to let out a small groan as the euphoria of it filled her. As straight-laced as she was, the fact that it was so addicting honestly scared her. She was too disciplined to let it have a hold over her, though. Victoria would not let herself become a tool of her power. Whatever it was.

Steeling herself, straightening her spine, the Colonel strode through the doorway, into the main room of the building. The village elder was sat before a low table, on one of the cushions that were strewn around it. A couple of young men holding ancient Kalashnikovs stood at the corners, suspicion clear across their face. Two soldiers had followed Victoria in, and she could feel their grip tighten on their rail guns, the power heightening her senses. With an almost imperceptible shake of her head, the two men relaxed slightly. Victoria did not fear them. She could stop them herself now, if she wanted. That was purely with the side arm too.

Looking down at the Elder in front of her, Victoria gave a small bow to him. "Greetings, Elder. I am Colonel Victoria Wolff, Commander of the Third Regiment, of Army Division Panzer. May I sit? We have much to speak about.
The CCD military units were nothing if not persistent. Maan had had to deal one already. He could have let his son deal with the annoyance of these requests but Nizar was not a patient man - his temper would fly off the handle. He could see the impatience in his stance next to him. His white knuckled grip was the only tension seen on the outside, but Maan new better. They both wanted the military gone - they were bad for business.

But he would suffer this Colonel Victoria Wolff as he had Captain Henderson. A woman...Some customs and culture were ingrained too deep for Maan not to take offense, however this was the CCD militiary and not his own house. It would suffer yet another..

When the Colonel asked to sit, Maan waved his hand for her to join him on the colored pillows surrounding the table. With another wave of the kahwa was brought out in small white ceramic shot glasses and placed for each of the CCD military and himself - his guests.[1] He was not going to insult their long standing traditions just because she was a woman of the CCD military. No he smile politely as he tipped back the glass and quickly downed the hot coffee. It only gave a small slight burn as it went down. But it was a most excellent brew.

Maan spoke with wry amusement."The words I have told your Captain Henderson have not changed since the last conversation. Unless it is something new you wish to ask of me."

[1] When guests arrive at a home, tiny ceramic “shot glasses” come out, and a mouthful of this coffee is served to each guest. The guest accepts the coffee, whips it down like a shot and requests another if they’re feeling bold by shaking the glass slightly when handing it back to the host. This type of coffee is not drunk slowly and savoured, but just as a sort of quick “hello and welcome” shot of energy when entering a home. It’s also used at celebrations. At weddings, the bride and groom share their first swallow of coffee from the same cup, then smash the cups against the wall – bad luck for anyone else to drink from their cups. (

Edited by Aria, Aug 5 2016, 07:53 AM.
As she accepted the shot, Victoria wondered if Henderson had bothered with the tradition. She'd sent the Captain as he was likely her best investigator; in the year they'd been operating he'd developed a finesse for following rumour, paper trails, small things that even she sometimes missed. However, he was not a tactful man, by any long shot. She could see him snapping that he had no time for drinks, and brusquely pushing to the point. No wonder progress was slow.

Nodding, Victoria threw back the coffee, steeling herself against the sudden rush of bitterness. She made it her mission to be aware of the customs, the traditions, know how to great them. How to fit in. As much as the Ascendancy had tried to tear down cultural barriers, only language had truly been successful. It was... unfortunate that the culture of Dominance V meant that her gender sometimes got in the way. It wasn't too bad, however. Sometimes the surprise men had at her steel was a bonus, in fact.

"A shame, Elder."
It took a moment for Victoria to reply, and when she did, the words were paced and measured. There was a slight pause before the shot glass shook in her hand, the indication for another. Best to seem bold. The pauses, and her slow speech, served another purpose. Her hand still rested casually on the handle of her gun, the power resting within her. Unfortunately, it stopped at telling her people's emotions. She need to use her own intuition for that one. From there, she could twist.

Uncertainty. That was what she decided upon. With no indication, she felt the power flow forward, those odd little lines drawing from herself, to flow into Maan. She started to work to water the small seeds of doubt that would hopefully be there. The fear that the cells were doing more harm than good. That a peaceful Custody was better for their small village, than a war-torn region. "All I want to do is help. I know this seems silly, coming from an agent, a solider of the Ascendancy. It must be hard, having to face a crisis such as this, when your village has largely been left alone."
Victoria gave a small shrug, putting on an expression of sadness. "I like it as little as you do, having to intrude upon people's homes, their lives. But certain people leave me no choice. Leave us all no choice. The question is, is it something that we actually face?"

No need to be more direct yet. The bedrock to any working relationship needed to be built up first. Making snap demands, trying to force, would merely ensure that their fight or flight reflex came out. Neither she really wanted to deal with.
Maan smiled as she indicated the desire for a second cup and with a simple wave a second was brought before her. At the very least he would listen to the woman...even though it grated upon him.

There was little doubt in his mind about which these people were. They'd been asking after them for days now. Where are they? Show us? Help us! These men and women of the CCD knew nothing of life here. They come in arms full of charity to cover up the war they bring. Of course their own men bring doom to their people - even fear. But they were country men... but...

Maan felt oddly compelled to listen more to her words more carefully. Maybe she was right? But she had years upon years of ingrained tradition and custom to overcome. Was helping the CCD helping himself?

He would listen. "What does this help cost me and mine? Are you going to post men here to keep us safe? Are you going to kill fathers and sons of the families here? Tell me Colonol, what does your help mean for me."
The second was no better than the first, unsurprisingly. Victoria set the ceramic down on the low table with a straight face. She kept her back straight, legs cross neatly beneath her. Keep the wall of formality up, be the perfect soldier, and it couldn't be turned around on her. Another short pause to readjust, re-analyse. Victoria would never allow herself to be caught up enough that she wouldn't, couldn't see a change coming. This time, she tentatively started to work around his trust. Not letting it grow overtly; that would be far too suspicious. Just a bit, however. Enough to put more weight behind her words.

"There is no cost the CCD is not willing to take upon ourselves."
Warmth crept into her tone, an actual sense of familiarity. Artificial, of course, but Victoria understood the need to put on a face sometimes. Perhaps she should've paid more attention to theater in school. "The CCD is no foreign, invading force anymore Elder. We serve the Custody, we serve Dominance V; we serve you. If security is an issue after this - no, we both know the fear will be there. The CCD will ensure you and your family are defended. Openly and secretly. Whatever you need to feel safe in your beds at night. Those who fight us will be offered the chance of redemption. They always will be."

Victoria allowed her face to form back into its natural hardness, ice coating her tone. "But make no mistake, Elder. I do what I do for the good of people like you, and I will do what I must. Your help is part of a relationship, one that exists over most of the known world. You help us, we help you. The Custody is not in the business of forgetting its friends. Or its enemies."
Was it too much? Hopefully not. Victoria was tensing, the warmth of the power being followed by the rush of adrenaline. Was she so inclined to take risks because the power made her feel... powerful? That was a worry. It was almost a struggle to actually stop herself from shaking those thoughts out of her head psychically. No uncertainty. Not now.
Maan's feelings were at odds. He wanted to trust her, but her words sent up red flags. The CCD was great for the big cities - the technology advanced. For his home it was nothing but words on paper, images of things outside of his control. The CCD might reign here, but it did little for the small people.

Maan was thinking through his words - how to carefully state his feelings about this conflicting or not. But his son blurted out. "Father it's nothing but words. The military men will come, and kill and they will leave us bleeding like every other war waged in our territory. We can defend ourselves. We know who are friends are."

Maan looked up to Nizar with a frown. He knew better than to speak like this to him in the company of others. Maybe because she was a woman Nizar felt the need to be rude. His son looked down and the shame on Nazir's face radiated outward. "Apologies, father. Colonel." He gave a curt bow and walked away from their seating arrangement.

Another man took up his post and Maan frowned. "While out of turn, he does speak the truth. You ask us to give up our families and friends. You call them insurgents. Why should I do that? Will you not gun them down when they fire at you? They will not stand down. You ask for more blood shed. The blood of my people."

Edited by Aria, Aug 5 2016, 02:30 PM.
Victoria kept herself together, expression not wavering. Even if uncertainty swept through her. It wasn't working. Damn it, she was supposed to be better than this. Instead, Maan felt... more suspicious. There was always the hard way, but Victoria didn't want to go to the hard way. That would leave Maan, well, dead at worst. Personally, she had never tortured someone, and doubted she ever would of her own accord. There were... lines that Victoria was not willing to cross.

After a moment of thought, she kept on the trust. It was her own words that were making it worse. Not exactly the way that she was going about it. "No offence was taken."
Victoria ensured she said the words directly to Nizar, trying to make the moment as genuine as possible, before her eyes went back to Maan. She felt like this was it. If he shut up more, Victoria doubted he was going to talk again. "Elder Maan. I do. All your accusations are true, and I apologise. For my words, than it my ingrained training. For my actions... some things in life are tragically necessary. I offer the best solution you are going to find here. What else is there? If I fail, then my higher ups will crush down, likely without my desire to see a peaceful resolution as far as I can. That is no threat, but merely how the world works now. If... well, the men we are discussing continue to grow? What then, Elder? They continue their attacks, which include innocent people? They form an army like they did a year ago, plunging the region into chaos again? That wasn't good for you.
" That part didn't need to be a question. Victoria knew the devastation that war had wrought. "I do not lie when I say I will protect you. The world has changed, Elder. We are your friends now. I do not ask you to trust us. Merely understand that we are the best choice you have now. That you all have. Please."

Lips clamped tight to stop an explosive sigh from leaving her lips at the end of that small, almost impassioned speech. The statue didn't change, even if keeping her resolve was becoming tougher. A few beads of sweat had appeared on her forehead, however. The power pulled her away, but it was mostly up to Victoria to keep that wall up, and using the power was tiring. She knew she'd sleep well tonight. Likely need a nap, too.
War was never good. And when it was right outside your front door it was worse. Maan didn't have a good solution to the situation. If he told the CCD military what they wanted to know the blood of their family and friends would be spilled. If they didn't these so called insurgents, their family and friends, would rise again. It was inevitable.

Maan sighed with resignation. She was right and he trusted her. He didn't know why, he didn't care. But he trusted her. It was an uneasy feeling, but he allowed the trust to take hold and he would give her the information she needed on one condition. "I will give you what you seek as long as you give them the chance to stand down. You said ' Those who fight us will be offered the chance of redemption.' That needs to start now."
Outwards, there was only a small nod of gratitude to Maan, and her voice was as crisp as ever. "You have my word, Elder. I will give them that chance. We will not go in guns blazing."
It was against regulation, but Victoria wasn't going to break her word on this. She'd promised, at this point. The only risk was... well, countering that with the duty she had to her men, to not get them hurt either. Realising she had zoned out, she gave a jerky nod to Maan, recovering. "I owe you my thanks. Very much so. My aide, Durand, will give you a map of the area. Mark on us the location of their base. I'll see that no harm comes to you after. I swear."
Victoria pressed her hands together, bowing her head as she raised them to touch her forehead. "Goodbye Elder. You have saved many lives today."

She raised herself off the floor, wincing slightly at the stiffness from not moving from the position she had been in. With a slight indication of her head, her men followed Victoria outside. As the sun hit her, the dust in the air, the heat, Victoria finally let go of the power, letting out an explosive breath that seemed to contain all the stress, all the worries that meeting had brought. She felt weak enough to be almost giddy, and collapsed against the side of the building, fumbling for the Land Warriors to actually act as sunglasses. Damn, she was absolutely exhausted now, and letting go of the power compounded the feeling. There was the desire, as always, to claw back for it, let it cushion her again. As always, however, Victoria crushed that feeling back down. No. It was not something to rely on.

The sound of a cleared throat made Vcitoria open her eyes, steely gaze directing itself onto Durand. An irrational feeling of irritation grew in her, an unfortunate combination of her state, and Durand's frankly irritating presence, as she was starting to realise now. This was not going to be an easy working relationship.

"What, Lieutenant."
She regretted the words as they left her mouth, far too snappy, far too irritated at a man simply trying to do her job. Durand stepped back, blinking heavily a couple of times, before uncertainly answering.

"W-well, were you, um, successful? Ma'am?"
Victoria just answered with a weary nod, bringing her tone back under control. Didn't need to take it out on him. "I was. Take in the map, and Maa-the Elder will mark it for us. Get some rest, Durand. You're going to get your first combat mission."

An awkward mixture of terror and excitement passed over Durand's face, before he finally managed a weak salute. His mouth opened to say something, but he only managed to squeak out a 'Yes Ma'am!' before disappearing. Thankfully. Giving a relieved sigh, Victoria lurched off the wall she was leaning on uncertainly. Now to return to the small, dirty, uncomfortable buildlsings clustered with a wall that called itself base, and most likely collapse until tomorrow morning. Then start to plan for this mission.

It really was non-stop. At least this short 'campaign' was coming to a halt. Give it a week, and she'd be back in Jerusalem again. Well, if she survived the week. Victoria frowned, shaking that overtly morbid thought away. Really didn't need that, now.

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